Natural Energy Boosters
Swap the caffeine pick-me-ups for these healthy alternatives
Instead of reaching for that daily morning and afternoon coffee, try incorporating some of these practices into your diet to see a more consistent change in your energy levels. Nutritionist Kelly Aronica breaks down the science for us and shares some foods and tips for a more energetic and lively lifestyle. — Yasmin Fahr
The Science Behind It
Food is fuel, so eating a healthy diet provides your body with the fuel it needs to function at its peak. It’s also important to refuel every few hours to keep you from running out of gas. Why? Because energy levels and alertness are related to two main things: blood sugar levels and brain chemicals.
The food you eat is converted into glucose (blood sugar). Glucose is transported to all the cells in your body, where it is converted into energy. When you are not eating, your body is using its glucose storage to maintain blood sugar levels at a constant level.
After a few hours (depending on how active you are and how big your last meal was), your body starts converting fat, and some protein, into glucose. But this extra step takes a little longer and is not as efficient. So your blood sugar will drop and leave you feeling sluggish and irritable. Time to refuel!
Sugar Highs: Fact or Fiction?
Many people have the idea that sugar causes hyperactivity. But research shows that sugar actually does the opposite. While there may be a very short-lived rise in blood sugar, it is very quickly metabolized and then leads to a drop in blood sugar and fatigue. So if you want to keep alert, avoid the sweets. Choose high-fiber carbohydrates, protein, fruits, and vegetables for your meals and snacks and save sweets for special occasions.
The brain is especially sensitive to blood sugar fluctuations. Brain chemicals that control mood and energy levels, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, are also affected by food. To maximize brain alertness, the best combination is to eat protein, which provides the raw materials for the neurotransmitters, with a smaller amount of whole grain carbohydrates. It generally takes about an hour after a meal for neurotransmitter levels to be affected.
For the specific foods that you should eat and some general ones as well, check out this slideshow to learn more.
In general, food does not work like caffeine or other stimulants. If you are lethargic because you haven’t eaten for five hours, then eating something will perk you up. But the reverse can also happen. If you eat too large a meal, the excess calories will make you sleepy.
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